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Ian Boyne | Rescuing our youth from crime

Published:Friday | July 14, 2017 | 12:00 AM

There is significant consensus that has emerged which we must never gloss over: We are now generally agreed that crime-fighting is more than hard policing and that issues of human rights, social intervention, and poverty reduction are critical in the battle.

We owe a major debt of gratitude to human-rights and social activists who have insisted that we take the rights of inner-city people, particularly inner-city youth, seriously. Through their vociferous and strident advocacy, these activists have pushed to the top of the agenda concerns about how the security forces treat inner-city people and how those citizens' rights have often been brutally trampled and abrogated.

Human-rights activists have blown the whistle on abuses that were commonplace up to a few years ago - commonplace and deemed acceptable. No longer so because of their valiant and relentless efforts. Social activists have also highlighted the tremendous social deficits that exist in the society and have pointed to the futility of applying purely security measures to crime.

My issue with human-rights activists has never been with the substance of their arguments. It has always been with their neglect of the urgent to deal solely with the important. But make no mistake about it: Social intervention is critically important in containing crime.

But there is another significant issue that does not get as much attention but which is equally crucial: It's one I have been riding for a long time but whose importance has only magnified with time. Yes, it's that issue of values and attitudes, or social capital.




One online reader of my column last week could not have summed up the issues more pointedly: "How can you influence a youth who has a gun, or guns, to put aside his gun and learn a trade that can only pay him $5,000 a week? Or those youths who have not reached the stage of being hard in their hearts but are seeing their peers wearing the latest shoes, jeans and other bling yet without education?

"How do you convince these youths not to join gangs? Isn't it lucrative to do so?"

Reader Mangoosetown goes on to add insightfully: "It is the value system that is at work here. How do you change that? His mother splashes $25,000 to buy a new dancehall outfit for one night. This is the life. That is what he sees. How do you change that? This is the root of the problem!" It is, indeed!

I must quote him in full: "By means of extortion, he can be driving a car in six months. Which youth is going to give up his guns for less than what he can earn with his gun? A difficult task ahead." Absolutely!

We have not been paying enough attention to this issue of values. I dare say that even our social activists, and commentators who have been excellent in identifying our issues of poverty and underdevelopment have underplayed the issue of values, often taking an economistic view that once you fix the economy, you automatically fix the issue of values. Not so at all.

Something the Jamaica Constabulary Force's Steve McGregor said last week in a meeting with media people got me thinking. In talking about the zones of special operations, Mr McGregor said an important strategy of the security forces will be to not only drive out criminals from certain communities but to ensure that there is no place for them afterwards. That is, the security forces' mission is to 'clear, build, and hold', ensuring that after they have brought in the social services and have dealt with the many community-development issues, they keep out the criminals. But that is dependent on certain things.

It would mean that the criminals would not be able to find any partners in that community. That the youth, in particular, would not find the criminals' way of life alluring. That these youth would be willing to take the low-paying jobs they might secure through social-intervention initiatives. Go back to Mangoosetown's simple but thoroughly realistic questions: What will keep young people who know how much bling they could come into in a short time through crime not succumb?

Remember, the dancehall music that influences them and that's constantly pounding in their ears; and the hip hop music of America with which they are inundated on their ubiquitous mobile phones, is reinforcing those bling values. Their peers are all seduced by crude materialism and hedonism. The Church has no influence over them. They are not part of any uniformed groups or community groups that could impart certain altruistic values. They are unattached to values-imparting institutions and organisations.

It is one thing to clear these communities of garbage, zinc fences, derelict buildings, running sewage, and criminals. It is good to build up those communities through the work of social-intervention groups. It is good to provide employment and training opportunities. But if you can't reach the minds of the youth, if you can't redirect their values, all that social investment will be jeopardised.

I heard the minister of national security talking recently about paying people for their guns. Does he have any idea what those guns are worth to those who have them? He thinks they are so stupid as not to know the value? Government can't pay for their true value. For to criminals who are intent on reaping the rewards of criminality - and there are many conspicuous rewards - a gun is a gift that keeps on giving. They are not thinking about death or the numbers of their friends who have been killed by it. They think they will be different, or at least they will 'live some life' before they die, which they see as better than living in poverty with good moral values. What's that worth?




If the build part of the 'clear, hold, and build' strategy does not include resocialisation, then its effect will be very limited. By resocialisation I am not just talking about teaching the value of going to work on time, having manners and being civil and polite. All that is good. It is about having a purpose in life beyond the maximisation of pleasure and the minimisation of pain. In the animal kingdom, that is instinctual. Well, it's instinctual in us humans, too, but civilisation trains us to override our instincts. Society and culture are all about taming our instincts and channelling them to social good.

Our young people have to learn postponement of gratification for a larger good. They have to learn the discipline of postponing pleasure for some higher achievement. If they are going to have a meaningful life - at least as defined by the rest of us - they can't give in to every feeling they experience. They can't go after every pleasure that is in their way.

We take for granted this matter of values. But if you talk to lotto scammers and some other criminals, you would be surprised as to the justification they provide for their actions. Some of the things that are repulsive to you - robbing old white people of all their life's savings - don't cause them any pain of conscience at all. We don't inhabit the same world when it comes to values.

That's a big part of our problem today. The ideals of our politicians and elites don't have one darn appeal to many young people - or many adults either. We have bred a people indifferent to traditional values. We are now reaping the whirlwind. We think the solution is hard policing, plus respect for human rights and then social intervention. Give people housing, health care, clean communities, good education, jobs, etc.

But it's more than that. It is about giving them a sense of purpose beyond narrow economic interests. How can we rebuild that sense of caring about other people? How can we get more people to see that a life in service of no one but oneself is a deeply impoverished life? We have to answer Mangoosetown: "How can you influence a youth who has a gun or guns to put aside his gun and learn a trade that can only pay him $5,000 a week?" How?

- Ian Boyne is a veteran journalist working with the Jamaica Information Service. Email feedback to and